Climate Change Cannot Be Stopped... - RSA Journal - RSA

Climate change cannot be stopped...

Feature

  • Picture of Ketan Joshi
    Ketan Joshi
    Analyst, communications consultant and advocate
  • Environment

... but we must continue to push for transformational change.

We are only as doomed as we choose to be.

No matter what we have damaged thus far, we can always fight to prevent worse. Even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) most recent ‘assessment report’, synthesising the best climate science, reiterates that our planet warms roughly linearly with how much planet-heating gas we pump into the skies and oceans.

Our planet is a bathtub, filling up with water. The tap is our flow of greenhouse gases, and the latest data update from the Global Carbon Project shows we have not stopped increasing the flow. The water only stops rising when the tap turns off.

The prevalence of solutions that simply avoid a worse flow rate (rather than stopping the flow itself, as recommended by the IPCC) has resulted in an accumulation of greenhouse gases such that we are now guaranteed to see our planet heat to more than 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels. Every fraction of a degree past that point depends on our shift from half measures to full-throated deployment of climate solutions.

 Take ‘carbon offsets’. More than 90% of these are presented as ‘neutralising’ emissions, yet they only buy a promise to not emit what was originally planned. That does not undo your climate harm, much the same way paying a serial killer to murder less does not absolve you of taking a life. At best, it keeps the tap flowing at the same rate it did yesterday. At worst, fabricated baselines and over-selling of offsets ultimately worsen the flow of emissions.

One proposed solution is ‘nature-based’ carbon removal, where trees suck CO2 from the air and store it in roots and soils. But the many gigatonnes needing storage cannot be crammed into the finite space in land-based vegetation. Technologies such as direct air capture can store carbon better but are energy-hungry and prohibitively expensive. Point-source ‘carbon capture and storage’ is the worst approach, capturing only a sliver of emissions, a green sheen that comfortably enables a net worsening of emissions flow by obscuring the real climate impact.

Slightly slower failure is not a form of success. The reality is that rapid climate action is far more feasible than ever thought. Current rates of clean power generation deployment make old forecasts look very silly. The electrification of vehicles and buildings is picking up pace, and heavy industries written off as ‘hard to abate’, such as steel manufacturing, are ejecting from that category daily. None of this is going as fast as it needs to, but all of it faster than ever anticipated.

Past failures are locked in, but ensuring future success means recognising how a fundamental fear of transformational change has held us back.

We are only as doomed as we choose to be.

Ketan Joshi is an analyst, communications consultant and advocate working with large climate and environment groups to accelerate climate action

This article first appeared in RSA Journal Issue 3 2023.

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